The Sacred Animal

Egyptian cat.

Egyptian cat.

The ancient gods and goddesses all had sacred animals that were associated with them. A god of the sky, like Zeus, of course, had a bird as his animal–the eagle. A fertility goddess, like Heket, is associated with the frog, while the Celtic fertility goddess, Eostre has the hare as her sacred animal. These make sense, of course, as do most sacred animals. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom’s sacred animal is the owl. The Chinese trickster god is a monkey (a perfect animal for a trickster), while the Egyptian goddess Bast is depicted with the body of a woman and the head of a cat. Since ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, it is fitting that one of their most beloved goddesses would be a cat goddess.

Goats, cats, dogs, monkeys, horses, bears, spiders, ravens, wolves, snakes, even cows and pigs, are all associated with a god or goddess or are worshiped as sacred.

I’ve often wondered what my sacred animal would be. Cat? I’m a bit stand-offish, light on my feet, like my privacy, and when I get my back up, I puff up and act bigger than I really am. Plus, I get pretty mean when riled up.

What about you? What would your sacred animal be?

 

Fixing the geek archetype chart

The Archetypes

The Archetypes

I love charts and lists! I can’t get enough of them. Charts and lists about some of my favorites stories? Heaven. Although, I do feel the need to argue with them and correct them when they are wrong. This chart is okay, but has a few glaring errors. Of course, I have to correct them.

Here is my version of the archetypes in these books, movies, and television show. I’ll put my changes in bold.

I’ll start with Firefly since it is the one with the most errors (in my opinion).

Firefly
Hero: Mal. I’d add Simon. Simon is a young man who has to leave his comfortable world and set out on an adventure. His quest is to save his sister and find out what has been done to her. He goes through many trials and hardships, learns about himself through those trials, and gains wisdom.

Sidekick: Zoe. Wash shouldn’t be included as a Sidekick. He was a Sidekick in one episode, but he does not typically fulfill the Sidekick role. Zoe is the one who fought with Mal in the war and always goes out on business dealings with him.

Maiden: Kaylee. Inara is all wrong! The Maiden archetype is all about innocence, purity, and virginity. Inara is a companion, a prostitute…hardly an example of the Maiden! Kaylee may not be virginal, but she always exudes a sense of sweetness and innocence.

Wise Old Man: Shepherd

Nurturing Mother: Serenity. It may seem strange to have a ship be the Nurturing Mother, but it is home to the crew, it is the place where everyone gets cared for and healed, and she (Serenity) is always referred to in loving words. The ship members love Serenity and she cares for them in return.

Eternal Child: River

Villain: Alliance

Shapeshifter: Jayne. Saffron is a Shapeshifter, but only in a couple of episodes. Jayne is the Shapeshifter for the whole series. He is the one we and the ship’s crew are unsure of. We do not know when he will turn and betray the crew; it could happen at any time. In fact, he does betray members of the crew, and even after he has betrayed them and been punished for it, we still do not trust him.

Trickster: Wash. Wash is the Trickster, not Jayne! Wash is the comic relief, the funny crew member who never takes things seriously. Jayne can be funny, but Wash is ALWAYS funny!

Harry Potter
The Hero: Harry, of course!

Sidekick: Ron and Hermione

Maiden: Ginny

Wise Old Man: Dumbledore

Nurturing Mother: Molly Weasley. This is one that I thought the chart got terrible wrong. Professor McGonagall as the Nurturing Mother! Absolutely not. If I were to put McGonagall as an archetype, she’d be the Crone. The Crone is the older wise woman. She’s got the wisdom of many years and experience, and she uses those to help the Hero. Molly Weasely is the ultimate mother figure.

Eternal Child: Hagrid. I’d also add Dobby.

Villain: Voldemort, of course. Really, there could be no other.

Shapeshifter: Snape. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, Snape is a brilliant example of the Shapeshifter archetype. There are other Shapeshifters within the different books (like Sirius Black), but Snape is the main one.

Trickster: Fred and George. I’d add Peeves. Peeves is the classic jester. He can get away with saying and doing things that no one else can. He isn’t on anyone’s side; he just likes to cause trouble.

Lord of the Rings
Hero: Frodo and Aragorn. They each represent a different kind of Hero, but both are definitely Hero’s.

Sidekick: Sam (Frodo’s Sidekick) and Legolas and Gimli (Aragorn’s). I wrote a post about how Sam is the ultimate Sidekick.

Maiden: Arwen. I agree that she is the Maiden, but she’s hardly mentioned in the books, except in the Appendix. It works well for the movies though.

Wise Old Man: Gandalf. Of course!

Nurturing Mother: Galadriel works, but I think it works even better to argue that all of the Elves represent the Nurturing Mother archetype. The hobbits and Strider are taken in and cared for in Rivendell, even though there is no “mother” there, only Elrond. The Fellowship is nurtured by Galadriel in Lothlorien, but they are also cared for by all of the Elves.

Eternal Child: Merry and Pippin. The chart above shows all of the hobbits, but that is wrong. Frodo and Sam are not the Eternal Child, which we can understand as the man who never grows up–the man-child. Not only are Sam and Frodo more mature than Merry and Pippin when the story begins (Pippin is by far the youngest, being still a teenager), but they are also more responsible. Frodo, the hobbit who is willing to take on the task of carrying the One Ring to Mordor, is certainly not an Eternal Child. No Eternal Child would take on such a huge burden. Sam takes his responsibilty to look after Frodo seriously from the very beginning of the tale. He is not a “man-child.” My only problem with Merry and Pippin as the Eternal Child is that they do grow up, at least in the books. By the end, they are the leaders of the hobbits who vanquish the bad Men and the evil Saruman in the Battle of Bywater.

Villain: Sauron. Like Voldemort, this is an easy one.

Shapeshifter: Gollum. I’d also add Saruman. When Gandalf realizes that Bilbo’s ring is the One Ring, he believes (as does everyone else) that Saruman is the good and wise White Wizard. Then, even after Gandalf discovers Saruman’s duplicity, he still doesn’t realize the extent to which Saruman has gone bad.

Trickster: Merry and Pippin. They represent the Trickster archetype much more in the movies than in the books. They are not nearly so stupid and bumbling in the books.

Star Wars
Hero: Luke Skywalker. In some respects, I think Han Solo is a Hero too. He has his own, very different character arc; he ends up on an adventure not of his choosing, learns from a Wise Old Man, endures many trials and tribulations, meets the “goddess,” has a Sidekick, and helps save the world.

Sidekick: C3PO and R2D2, but mostly R2D2. The little droid is there for Luke when he is on Dagobah and Cloud City. C3PO is often with Han and Leia. The Sidekick for Han, of course, is Chewbacca.

Maiden: Leia. Princess Leia is the ONLY woman around!

Wise Old Man: Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’d add Yoda. After all, it is Yoda who trains Luke after Obi-Wan dies. He is the Wise Old Man figure in The Empire Strikes Back.

Nurturing Mother: Star Wars doesn’t really have a Nurturing Mother. Yes, Aunt Beru is a mother figure for Luke, but she dies so early on, that I don’t think she counts. Usually the Nurturing Mother is someone the Hero meets along the way. I’m going to go out on a limb, like I did with Firefly, and consider the Millenium Falcon the Nurturing Mother. The Millenium Falcon is the place everyone goes to escape the bad guys, and to heal after they have been injured. It is a place of respite for them all.

Eternal Child: R2D2. I don’t agree with C3PO as an Eternal Child–he is a grumpy old man! He fusses and complains about everything. He is not irresponsible, joking, and looking forward to the future like an Eternal Child. R2D2 is much more of a child. He beeps and chirps and jokes around with Luke.

Villain: Darth Vader. I’d add the Emperor, especially with The Return of the Jedi. He is actually the main Bad Guy who Luke has to defeat in the end.

Shapeshifter: Lando.

Trickster: R2D2. I think Han Solo is wrong! He is not the Trickster. If the Trickster is the archetypeal character who not only provides comic relief, but also plays tricks, neglects following rules, then I’d say R2D2.

What do you think? Do you agree with me or with the chart?

My Other Mothers

I love my mother very much. She means the world to me. Not only has she been a wonderful mother, she is also a good friend and she had been there for me for everything, no questions asked.

On this day before Mother’s Day, I want to honor the other women in my life who mothered me, guided me, gave me a hand up when I was down, a shoulder to cry on when life got rough and cheered me on through it all.

My mamatribe. My tribe of mothers and friends who helped me raise my son. Heather, Jaimie, Tara, Alica, Sybelle, Shari, Debbie, Sharon, Amy, Lara. We spent our children’s early lives sitting at the park, talking, crying, and laughing. Lots of laughing! Being a mother is much easier when you have a tribe of other mothers by your side.

One of my best memories is when I tested for first degree black belt and many of these women and their children were there to cheer me on.

My Aikido teacher, Judith Robinson Sensei. Twelve years ago I walked into her dojo and what a transformative step that was! She’s raised me from a baby aikidoka, to a rebellious teenager (I even ran away for a while!), and now she’s helping me to be an adult in this aikido world. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if not for the aikido she brought out in me.

My Aikido sempai, Claire. Claire was the first person I met when I walked in that door to the dojo and she was the first person to ask me ‘how did you like it?’ when I finished my first class. She’s been there through it all, not only helping me on the mat, but talking to me and guiding me off the mat as well. We’ve traveled to seminars together and she’s shown me the importance of making connections with people. Now I have an aikido community of friends that expands beyond my dojo.

My dance teacher, Yarrow King. I can barely put into words how much she mothered me as a dancer. She took a shy, self-conscious woman who wouldn’t ever dance and turned me into a dancer. The transformation was profound. I feel dance and rhythm in every part of my body and soul now.

These women!! How beautiful and magnificent they all are!

To all of the women who have mothered me. I love you all.

Do you have a woman in your life who mothered you?

When I Love Tucson

Sometimes I really love Tucson.

What happened here after Prince died is one example. The music and movie community rallied and events were planned to celebrate his music. At our local, independent theater, The Loft Cinema, they hosted a Purple Rain Sing-a-Long. At another independent club, Club Congress, they had a dance party where they played Prince’s music. If you dressed as Prince, you got in for free! At the local live music venue, The Rialto Theatre, a painter created a mural on the side of their building devoted to Prince.

Prince mural at the Rialto Theatre. Artist: Joe Pagac.

Prince mural at the Rialto Theatre. Artist: Joe Pagac.

The event that was uniquely Tucson was the Prince Memorial Dance/Bike Ride. About 50 people showed up, on their bikes, all dressed up, and they hit several Tucson downtown hotspots where they’d stop and dance to Prince. One of the organizers is somewhat of a local celebrity: he rides a bike fitted with huge speakers that are covered in leopard print material. There’s even a tail!

I was in my regular dance class that night near where the bike memorial was going on. Towards the end of our class, I looked out the window and saw dozens of people on bikes pull up outside of our studio. Prince was blaring on the bike speakers. They jumped off their bikes and spilled into our studio and we spilled out front, all while Prince’s music played in the doorway.

 

A magic moment!

We all came together in celebration of a talented musician, one who had given so much to all of us with his music. Everyone danced, smiled, and celebrated. It didn’t last long. Like a flash mob, they showed up, we danced, and then they got on their bikes and rode off, the music of Prince floating into the distance.

We returned to our dance class, energized and happy despite the sadness surrounding Prince’s death. The happiness stemmed from this moment of communal grieving and celebration of a life.

What a cool place to live.

The Joy of Live Music-Anything Can Happen

ConcertSeeing music live is one of the best experiences there is. Listening to recorded music cannot compare…not even close. I’ve been to more rock shows than I can easily count. I have seen a lot of bands (around 70), some big names, some small, and some I’ve seen more than once. This was a conscious decision I made—go see my favorite bands live. As a young woman in my late teens, early twenties, it meant sacrificing things so I could afford tickets. On my list of priorities, concert tickets was close to the top. It might have been higher than food! Or, at least, food past the required level to survive.

Although I went to shows at least once a week for a while, there are some that were more memorable than others. My top Five:

5. Front row at Motley Crue. 1984. I had just turned 16 and they played at the UCSB sports arena. My best friend’s mom worked at the University and got us front row seats. We were so excited we bragged about it to everyone at school who cared. Most of the boys didn’t believe us, but they had their mouths open in shock the night of the show when they saw us standing Right.Up.Front. Oh, the smug smiles we gave them. Hehe. The best part—Mick Mars handed me a guitar pick and I caught one of Tommy Lee’s drum sticks. My friends overheard a girl say that she was going to ‘jump me’ for the drum stick, so they formed a phalanx around me as we left the arena. Good friends!

4. Seeing Spinal Tap live. Spinal Tap! They played at a RIP Magazine anniversary party with a bunch of other bands at the Hollywood Palladium in 1991. They actually played songs like Big Bottom, Hell Hole, and Stonehenge. So surreal to actually see Spinal Tap as a real band and not just a parody of a band in a movie. This is Spinal Tap is one of my favorite movies, so seeing them play live was a real treat.

3. Alice in Chains at The Whiskey, 1991. One of the things I remember about the actual show was that a stage diver landed on my head and knocked me unconscious. That wasn’t exactly a high point, BUT, it was an incredible show! It was one of those special events where only the first 100 people to show up for a record signing got in. There may have been only 100 people in the crowd, but the band played with such ferocity, it felt like 100,000. What made it even more special was that I had met the band earlier and they were really nice (not being famous yet). I had a wonderful, relaxed conversation with Layne Staley, the lead singer…RIP Layne.

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Mesa Amphitheatre, June, 1990 (Mother’s Milk tour). This show was an EXPERIENCE from start to finish. I had just graduated from college. My friend and I took a road trip to Phoenix to see the Chili Peppers even though we both lived near L.A. and had seen them several times. Since we were in a strange town, we decided to check out where the show was being held, so we drove over and…serendipity! The band was doing its soundcheck! We stood at the fence and watched the whole thing. Afterwards, hot and thirsty (we were in Phoenix in June, after all) we went over to the hotel across the street and…yes…met Anthony Keidis and John Frusciante. They were hot and thirsty too, but really nice to us.

On top of all that, the actual show was CRAZY. General admission and my friend and I were right up in front. As soon as the band came out, the crowd went nuts and the fence barrier collapsed, along with everyone standing up front. Which, of course, included us! We had been prepared and were able to push back and avoid being trampled, but me being me, I fought my way back to the front as soon as things settled. Up at the stage again, I got a handful of Anthony Keidis as he knelt down in front of us to sing.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a show that was so filled with out of the ordinary excitement.

1. Seeing David Gilmour play and sing Wish You Were Here. May, 1994 at Texas Stadium in Dallas. This was back when Texas Stadium was mostly covered except for a square opening at the top. It was POURING rain that night. We were up high enough to be covered. The stage was covered. But in between us and David Gilmour…sheets of rain shining in the lights.

David Gilmour sat on a simple stool in the middle of the stage, just him and his acoustic guitar, a spotlight illuminating him. When he played the first five notes of Wish You Were Here, the crowd lost its mind. We all sang along. It was the most magical concert event of my life, like a dream come true, hearing one of my favorite songs played by my favorite guitar player…live.

I would LOVE to hear about your favorite or most memorable concert or live music experiences. It doesn’t have to be rock, either.

The Circle and the Spiral

I often think of Aikido in philosophical terms. When a teacher gives advice about how to do a technique physically, I sometimes translate it into advice on how to live my life. It doesn’t always happen, and I’m not always sitting in class listening to my sensei (teacher) and thinking, “hmm, now how could that apply to my life?” There are times, though, when it hits me like a slap in the face. I can feel it physically, and it seems as though I’ve discovered something wonderful.

O'Sensei doing ikkyo

O’Sensei doing ikkyo

One day I was sitting in meditation when an insight from Aikido hit me. It was the concept of moving your uke (the person attacking you) in a spiral motion rather than a circle. When you do ura (a turning movement) or any kind of turning technique (like ikkyo) where you take uke from a high spot to a spot on the ground, ideally you turn him/her in a spiral rather than a circle. If you turn uke in a circle…nothing happens. He can just go round and round and you never take him down, and you never fully take control of his balance. If you have trouble with ikkyo ura, you are probably moving in a circle rather than a spiral. If you move uke in a spiral, from the high point where you both meet to the low spot on the mat, then it works and you should have control of uke’s balance throughout the entire technique.

Here is a video of aikidoka doing ikkyo–skip to :44 to see the spiraling ura movement.

It occurred to me that this concept of the circle and the spiral applies to how I deal with life problems, especially those problems that keep coming back to me time after time. I realized that I’m dealing with these recurring problems as circles rather than spirals. First, it’s a circle in that the problem comes back to me again and again. The reason it comes back is because I always deal with it on the same level. I handle it in almost exactly the same way every time it surfaces. I think about it the same, and I try to solve it in the same way. This never works!

If I deal with these problems as spirals they’ll work themselves out. Instead of thinking about them and acting on them in the same way as I have in the past, I need to deal with them on a different level and on a different plane. It’s the spiral. Each time I encounter the problem, I need to deal with it on a different level of engagement. In this way it will eventually be solved.

That’s how the spiral works differently and better than the circle. When I’m in the circle mode (in Aikido or in life) I always come back to the same place. My uke and my problem are in the same place. The balance of my uke isn’t broken, and my problem isn’t altered. In the spiral, the plane of existence is broken. I don’t come back to the same place; I keep moving down towards the end. The balance of my uke is broken a little bit every time the plane is moved, and my problem is cracked every time I move downward.

The way for me to do this is to focus on the end rather than on the problem. If I’ve got all of my attention on uke during ikkyo ura, then I’ll instinctively move in a circle. I cannot move towards the conclusion if I’m concentrating on the uke. I must focus on the end–on where I want uke to be rather than where he is. I put my focus on the spot on the ground where I want uke to end up. This also allows me to open my awareness to my surroundings, so I know if something else is coming to sideswipe me.

This all corresponds to life problems as well. If I focus on the end result, and where I want to be rather than focusing on the problem as it is now, then I can get to that end and break the cycle. I also need to open my awareness to my surroundings in real life too. Only in this way can I be open to new and more creative solutions to my problems.

Writing in HD

I’ve been rewatching Game of Thrones and it came to me recently that one thing I love about the show is its production value. Forget the story, the characters, the scenery, or the costumes…the cinematography and sound production of that show is incredible!

d2a41a40d91b9e672d07748f9d102356The word that comes to my mind when watching—sensual. It pleases all the senses. Even in scenes…strike that…especially in scenes where only two people are talking, the atmosphere of the surroundings touches all the senses. I’m thinking of a scene in which two characters are taking a bath and talking about dragons. The dialogue is good, but what got my attention was the sound of the water as the woman ran her hands through it or gently splashed it up on his chest. Or the light of a dozen flickering candles surrounding the bathtub, each one giving off the right amount of light. Sensual.

The scenes don’t have to be in a bath to be that sensual. Another scene in which two power players sit at a table and discuss strategy has the same effect. The table is laden with food and silver dishes (these are rich men), the sound as the wine is poured into their goblets is enough to make me yearn for a glass of wine. A fire crackles in the background. Candles light the table and reflect on the silver. The leather of their clothing creaks a little when they move. Even their voices are enhanced to sound sonorous and pleasing. Not only that, but the silences are often long and drawn out for dramatic effect and that only adds to the richness of the background. When there is silence, the viewer can soak in all the sights, sounds, and feelings of the scene.

As I watched one of these quiet episodes, I thought… ‘I wish I could write like that!’

I want to be able to write in HD!

Many writers can do it. It’s a wonderful gift. One of my favorite historical fiction authors can write in such a sensual way that I feel I’m in a 12th century castle or fighting in a battle. I can feel the tight bodice of a noblewoman’s dress, feel the warmth of a hearthfire after a long day in the saddle, feel the headiness of a goblet of wine. It’s phenomenal!

I’m not there yet, but ever since my Game of Thrones experience, I think I have a better understanding of what to do. We’ll see.

Do you have a favorite writer who can bring all the senses to life?

My New Workout Plan

I’m starting a new workout program and have decided to turn it into an experiment. This new trend for working out isn’t new at all. It’s now called a ‘street’ workout, but it resembles old-fashioned calisthenics. No weights, just body weight exercises, like dips, pull-ups, push-ups, squats, pistols (one-legged squats) and sit-ups, although not quite as boring as it sounds. The exercises can be adjusted and changed as I get stronger…and I hope I get stronger!

On my 50th birthday (in two years) I want to test myself on how well this program works. So far, the videos I’ve seen on youtube are of 20-something year old young men and women. They look like they’ve done either gymnastics or parkour.

How will it work with a middle-aged woman? How strong can I get?

I’m not starting from zero—I am in decent shape. I practice Aikido at least twice a week and I dance once a week. But I have not been doing any kind of strength training work out in a few years, so that part of my fitness is not good.

I did my first work-out last week and it was pretty pathetic! This is how I looked doing pull-ups on my first day:

I think I can do better than that!

I’m not setting any goals. All I want to see is how much improvement I make in two years…or if I can even sustain this for two years. I tried Crossfit a few years ago, but it wasn’t sustainable for me.

Right now, I can’t do even one pull-up or a full dip and I even do push-ups from my knees. My pistols are not all the way down and I have to hold on to something for balance. I have a long way to go! I’m only working out once a week, so my progress might be slow.

My husband is my workout partner and my coach and he’s a great coach, always there to encourage me…and I need a lot of encouragement. He designs my workout regimen and keeps me on track. My biggest failing when I work out by myself is to not push myself or try to do that one extra repetition, but when he’s watching I don’t give up as easily as I do when I exercise alone.

I’ll check in every once in a while to update my progress. Wish me luck!

Magic in The Lord of the Rings–Deus ex Machina Part II

In last week’s blog I wrote about how magic and the paranormal can sometimes become a cheat in modern fiction. This week, I want to focus on how Tolkien handled magic The Lord of the Rings.

I know he is not modern or specifically a YA author, but I like the way he handles magic. In his books, magic never saves the day in an unrealistic way. Magic never solves ALL of a characters’ problems. Magic and the supernatural can help and aid and guide, but it isn’t what ultimately defeats the main bad guy. Frodo or Aragorn don’t instantly develop magical powers right at the very moment they need it. Of course, magical things do happen to the characters, because they live in worlds in which magic is available.

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is an ordinary hobbit without any magical abilities. There is magic in the story, though, in the form of Gandalf and the Elves. But Gandalf uses his magic sparingly and the Elves’ “magic” is not the same as what we believe magic to be.

gandalf

On several occasions Gandalf uses his magic to help the Fellowship. He is the only being powerful enough to fight the Balrog, so he sacrifices himself to save them. He uses magic to rouse Theoden from his enchantment. When the men of Gondor must flee from the Orcs at Osgiliath and are then attacked by Ring Wraiths, it is Gandalf who rides to their rescue. He uses magic to repel the Nazgul.

However, Gandalf never completely saves the day with his magic. Gandalf only does enough to help the other inhabitants of Middle Earth fulfill their own destinies. He gives Aragorn guidance and advice, but does not fight his battles for him, nor does he give Aragorn any special abilities. Aragorn has to discover his power on his own, by taking the dangerous road and proving to all that he is the king returned. Aragorn has special powers—powers that we’d consider magical—but it takes him the length of the book to discover them. He has to PROVE himself as a man and as a king before he can tap into those powers.

The other source of magic for our Fellowship is the power of the Elves. However, the Elves, like Gandalf, remove themselves from the action. Their magic cannot destroy the Ring of Power, but can only guide the Fellowship and aid them on their journey. The Elves do not even consider themselves magical, and their brand of magic is not the fireworks and spells that we consider to be magic.

As Sam says to Frodo when they are in Lothlorien, “If there’s any magic about, it’s right down deep, where I can’t lay my hands on it…” Later, when the Fellowship takes it’s leave of Lothlorien, the Elves give them gifts, including cloaks,

“Are these magic cloaks?” asked Pippen, looking at them with wonder.
“I do not know what you mean by that,” answered the leader of the Elves. “They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land…leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make…”

That is the magic of the Elves. Love and beauty and a deep respect for the world.

Like Aragorn, Frodo is guided by Gandalf, but is also left to prove himself. Frodo is a hobbit and so has absolutely no magic in him. The only magic he possesses is the magic of a simple person who harbors a tremendous capacity for love and compassion. Sam, too. As we learn, though, this is some very powerful magic!

What defeats Sauron is not magic, but some of the highest qualities of humanity—humility, mercy, selflessness, loyalty, and friendship. Sauron cannot see the Ring coming his way to be destroyed, because he cannot understand that anyone could be in possession of the Ring and not use it. This blindness of Sauron’s allows Frodo and Sam to get the Ring to Mordor without detection.

Out of loyalty and friendship Aragorn puts himself at risk not once, but twice, to help Frodo and Sam travel without detection. Aragorn shows himself to Sauron in the Palantir so that Sauron will think he has the Ring. This takes the heat off Frodo and Sam. Aragorn does the same thing when he rides with the men of Gondor and Rohan to the very gates of Mordor (the gates of Hell, really) to bring Sauron’s attention to him rather than Frodo and Sam. Aragorn knows full well that this could be his death, but he does it because he knows that the fate of the world and his two hobbit friends are in jeopardy.

The final defeat of Sauron happens when the One Ring is thrown into the pit of Mount Doom, but this only happens because Frodo and Sam showed mercy on several occasions. Frodo and Sam both had opportunities to kill Gollum, but they didn’t, because Gollum was a source of pity for them. Frodo saw his own potential decay (from carrying the Ring) in the form of Gollum. He felt pity for him and refused to kill him. At the very end, as they climb up of Mt. Doom, Sam and Gollum face off. Instead of fighting, though, Gollum throws himself at Sam’s feet and pleads. Sam thinks of killing him (it would be easy at this point), but can not bring himself to do it,

“But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again.”

Sam pardons Gollum. Sam shows mercy and this final act of mercy destroys the Ring, because Frodo, faced with the act of destroying the Ring, can’t do it. He’s succumbed to it’s evil power. Gollum plays his final part. He attacks Frodo, steals the Ring, and then falls into the pit of Mount Doom, destroying himself and the Ring.

There is magic in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf and the Elves are very powerful beings. Aragorn has supernatural abilities to fight and heal. But none of this magic is a way out for our characters. They all have to fight (even Gandalf!) and learn and grow. Magic helps them, aids them, guides them. It is not a cheat.

The “magic” of The Lord of the Rings are the simple, and most noble, qualities of what it means to be human.

The Supernatural–A Modern Deus Ex Machina

*I’m on vacation and reblogging this from a few years ago!* 

Deus ex Machina—this phrase means “god from the machine” and was originally a stage device used by the ancient Greeks in which a god would be lowered to the stage using a crane. So, the god would literally come from a machine. He would also be placed right in the middle of the action and give advice or solve a problem.

Dionysos Theatre in Athens

Dionysos Theatre in Athens

In modern literature a deus ex machina is when something unexpected happens that provides a contrived or artificial solution to a problem. Typically this problem is unsolvable. I can can forgive the ancient Greeks for their simple and obvious solutions to problems, after all, they didn’t have the sophisticated special effects we do now.

I consider it a cheat in modern stories.

Today the deus ex machina is magic and things supernatural. Your protagonist in a bind and you can’t figure out a way to save him? Give him or his companions some supernatural powers! Have a character who needs to die, because that’s the only logical conclusion for your storyline, but you don’t really want her dead? Easy. Have someone magical come in and heal her, or better yet, turn her into a supernatural being! For the big bang, bring her back to life.

This happens a lot in middle grade and YA literature, movies, and TV shows, because the current fashion dictates constant action and conflict. Of course, action, conflict, and tension are what make a story worth reading, but when they are taken to the ultimate extreme, we end up with stories in which impossible solutions are given for impossible problems. The deus ex machina. Perhaps this is why so many stories now involve supernatural beings (witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves, etc.), because they can rise above all the normal constraints of a story.

This fashion for constant action and conflict makes it so that modern stories jump right into the conflict and never let up throughout the entire book. What happens is that when the conflict starts at a fairly high pitch in the first few pages of the book, and it has to keep going, then the consequences get more and more severe. The conflict gets ramped up so high that the characters get put into impossible situations they can’t escape without some kind of supernatural contrivance.

Or things get to the point where the author has to kill someone. I’ve seen this happen countless times…killing someone important becomes the only option left. Unfortunately, in YA literature, authors don’t want their characters to die (or their publishers don’t), and so something supernatural has to happen to bring them back.

How many characters in YA literature get turned into vampires or turn their friends into vampires after a death? How many YA kids find out they have supernatural powers at exactly the moment when they are in dire peril? How many characters (not just in YA) are rescued by a supernatural being at exactly the right moment?

Of course, in literature you have to have these moments when the protagonist is in peril and has to come up with a solution. The problem comes when circumstances are so grim that what the protagonist suffers is unfixable or when the solution is completely contrived and over-the-top.

I just want to add that I typically love YA literature, with magic and without, and read a lot of it!